Chapter 13 : Stamp of Approval
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“Look, you lot,” he began, arms crossed over his chest. His dark brows were drawn into a scowl. Molly was starting to think of it as his normal expression.
“Before you say anything, Coach, I just want you to know that they started it.” Declan was practically radiating innocence.
Fitz scowled at him. “They swear that you started it.”
“It was sort of mutual,” said Duff.
“Hilarion said he'd talk to their captain about letting it drop so we can all just forget it happened,” Molly put in, hoping to derail the approaching lecture. She didn't want to stand there and have to listen while the team got chewed out about something she'd had nothing to do with and had no intention of ever doing herself.
“I talked to their coach about that, too,” Fitz told her. “Hopefully they'll forget about it, because they don't want their owners finding out, and so will we, because we don't want McCormack finding out. Or the League, for that matter.”
Given the rampant gossip in the Quidditch world, the League probably already knew. If they were going to punish either team for the brawl, there would probably be an owl about it by the end of the day.
Duff let out a snort. “D'you have any idea how often Falmouth gets nasty owls from the League because of rough play and fouls? It's just a bar brawl. We didn't even damage any property. It'll be fine.”
“Strangely enough, you're probably right,” said Fitz. “It wasn't what I was going to say before I was interrupted, but-”
“Sorry,” interrupted Declan.
Fitz gave him a glare. “I want you lot upstairs. I've got a reel of game footage from yesterday and I want to go over it so we can see where you went wrong.”
The team groaned and shuffled their feet. “We only just got back,” whined Sid. “Can't we do it on Monday?”
“We went wrong because Jinks didn't get the Snitch,” Zara pointed out.
“Thanks for that,” said Jinks, giving her a salute.
Fitz was not amused. “Oh, I know a few other places you lot went wrong. Come upstairs, I'll show you.”
There seemed little choice, so they trooped upstairs after him, depositing their baggage in the locker room before heading into the projector room. Plopping into a seat beside Zara, Molly hoped her sister slept late. Lucy was due in this morning for a visit, and now Molly wouldn't be home to let her in. She hoped the game footage wouldn't last too long. He couldn't possibly have the entire game's reels.
An hour later, it turned out he probably did have the entire game, but he wasn't making them watch it. Instead it was a highlight reel of the team's mistakes. Molly sat uncomfortably when the attention turned to her, hoping the film didn't show her staring at Fitz in the coach's box. Surely he would have cut that?
The film showed her distracted, but it was impossible to tell if she'd just been looking at the stands. No one seemed to see anything amiss. A few of them had stopped paying attention when their critique was over, disinterested in critiques of the other players.
“Can we go now?” Jinks demanded as soon as they'd watched Hilarion get to the Snitch before him. “We'll do better next time, we promise. Who do we play next?”
“Falmouth,” Fitz told them. “In three weeks. You have a schedule for the season, Jinks.”
“I don't read those.” Jinks twisted in his seat to look at Duff. “Feel free to foul them all you like.”
“Right on,” said Duff.
“Don't foul anyone on purpose,” Fitz said firmly. “Unless you have to. All right everyone, go on home and get some rest. Bright and early Monday morning, we're back to work.”
The team shuffled outside, heading out far enough from the pitch to escape the Anti-Apparition spells, and Fitz stayed at the building, watching them go. Molly called the team round, bringing them to a stop just before the point of Apparition.
“I know I invited you lot over for celebratory drinks, and we don't really have a reason to celebrate,” she began. “But I think we should still get together. We played well yesterday, dammit. I'm proud of us. Screw it, let's celebrate anyway.”
“Hell yeah,” Duff exclaimed. “Drinks at Molly's place!”
“Coach,” Jinks called, turning around and waving at Fitz. “Party at Molly's tonight! You should come too!”
Fitz gave them a wave in return. Molly wasn't sure if he was accepting or declining.
“It's rude to invite people to a party that's not yours,” Zara told Jinks.
He was unperturbed. “What? He's part of the team, isn't he?”
“You're an idiot, Jinks.”
“Aw,” he said, putting an arm around Zara's shoulders. “You sound just like the coach.”
The party was in full swing by nine o'clock, with nearly the entire team, reservists and all, sitting around Molly's living room or milling about around the dining room bar, drinking and laughing and listening to the Wizarding Wireless Network. Only Mariah Waldman hadn't turned up, but Molly couldn't bring herself to care.
Fitz was there, and she hadn't even had to invite him. Jinks could be surprisingly helpful, even though he was now drinking all her vodka.
Molly was in the kitchen, refilling bowls of crisps and peanuts and enjoying the feel of a home full of guests, when a familiar voice behind her said her name.
She turned and saw her sister. “Hi Luce!”
Lucy looked slightly uncomfortable. “I didn't realize you were having a party tonight.”
“It was sort of impromptu. I'm glad you're here.” She took her sister's arm and led her over to the bar area, depositing the snack bowls on the table as they went. “Come have a drink.”
“Oh, just a butterbeer is fine...”
Molly chuckled and found a bottle of butterbeer for her. “You and Hilarion, honestly.”
Lucy drank and looked around. “I meant to come by this morning, but I couldn't get away from Mum and Dad's after I picked up Flora. You know how they are.”
“Well, come and meet everyone,” Molly said, nodding toward the team.
“Oh, your coach is here too.” Lucy's eyes were sparkling. “How convenient.”
“Shut up, Luce.” But since she'd wanted Lucy to meet him, she dragged her sister over and introduced her to the team. The rest of them had briefly met her at the Appleby pitch already so they were more interested in their card game than they were in Molly's little sister. This suited Molly well, since no one was paying them any attention when she got round to Fitz.
“This is my little sister, Lucy,” she said putting an arm around her sister. “Lucy, our coach, Riordan Fitzroy.”
Fitz reached out to shake Lucy's hand. She tilted her head as she smiled up at him, eyes speculative. “Nice to meet you.”
“My husband says he remembers you from your time with Montrose,” Lucy said. “Something about going to the pub together?”
Fitz's face froze at the mention of his old team, but his expression relaxed again so fast that Molly almost thought she'd imagined it. “Yeah, I remember,” he said easily. “Nice bloke. Didn't get a chance to talk to him yesterday while we were in Appleby.”
“Oh, I'm sure you'll see him again soon,” Lucy responded with a smile. “Now you're on the same team as his sister-in-law and all.”
“True.” He was looking down at Lucy, and then glanced over at Molly. “You two look very much alike, you know.”
Lucy's cheeks turned a bit red. She'd always been rather sensitive about her appearance. “No, Molly's taller than me, and-” But she cut herself off before finishing. Molly had a disheartening feeling her sister had been about to say thinner.
“I meant your faces,” Fitz said with more kindness than Molly had heard from him before.
Lucy smiled at him, a sweet curve of her lips, and Molly had the urge to throw her arms around Fitz's neck for making her sister smile like that. She took a long swallow of her drink instead, because the entire team was present.
“Oi there, Coach!” called Jinks from over on the couch, waving one long arm at them. “We need an impartial dealer for blackjack.”
“What, you don't trust me not to cheat as dealer?” Duff demanded.
“Not really,” Jinks told him.
“Sorry, mate,” agreed Deimos.
“Go deal them cards, and remember not to let them play too deep,” Molly said, giving Fitz a little push on his good shoulder.
“How deep is too deep?” Fitz asked as he walked off.
“Nothing over two hundred Galleons!”
He was already sitting down with the gamblers and gave her a wave as he picked up the deck of cards.
Lucy's eyes widened. “Do they normally bet higher than that?”
Molly rolled her eyes as she led her sister away. “That lot would bet their kidneys if I let them.”
Once they were in her bedroom, Molly closed the door firmly. Lucy sat down on the bed, curling her legs up underneath her and running a hand through her hair.
“I see why you like him,” she said as Molly stretched out on the bed beside her. “He's very appealing.”
“He was nice to you,” Molly retorted, unsure why she felt the need to say it. “He's not as appealing when he's shouting at everyone.”
Molly closed her eyes. “All right, he's still appealing when he's shouting.”
She pictured him stalking around the grounds of the pitch, angry and shaking his fists at the team, smashing his broom in a fit of misplaced rage. He needed to control his temper, but yes, he was still appealing. Probably that meant something was wrong with her.
“You've got it bad,” her sister said sympathetically. “You even think he's proper fit when he's shouting at everyone?”
“Oh, shut up.”
Lucy chuckled and lay down on the bed beside her. “Oh, Molly. I think he likes you very much. He has a soft look in his eyes when he's looking at you.”
A warm feeling spread through her at that. She smiled happily. “D'you think so?”
Molly lay there, looking up at the ceiling in companionable silence for a bit, a faint smile still on her lips. It felt good to have someone to talk about Fitz with, someone she could be sure wouldn't spread rumours. Much as she loved Roxanne, her cousin sometimes let a story get the best of her. She loved all her cousins, but she knew Roxy's faults too well to trust her with the whole tale. The temptation might be too great. Roxanne would probably think she was doing her a favour by writing a story. She could picture her cousin's face earnestly talking about publicity and the fans.
Lucy, on the other hand, might tell her husband, but otherwise would keep it to herself. Molly trusted her brother-in-law to stay silent as well. He barely talked to anyone except his wife. It was sort of a relief to have someone else's opinion on Fitz. It was beginning to dawn on her that she couldn't look on him impartially.
She turned on her side. “Tell me what you think of him.”
Lucy laughed. “I only spoke to him for a minute, Molly.”
That hardly mattered. Lucy wasn't a Weasley for nothing. They all made snap judgments of people. “But what did you think?”
“I thought he's handsome. I saw his expression change when I brought up his old team, but he didn't get angry. I thought he might,” Lucy admitted.
She must've heard some things about Fitz around the League. Molly was somewhat surprised her sister had thought of poking that particular wound. “You're more devious than you look, Luce.”
“I liked him,” Lucy said simply. “I don't know. I just did. And it's not because you like him. There's just something about him.”
“Well, you can't have him,” Molly said, poking her sister in the ribs. “You're already married, and besides, he's mine.”
She rolled her eyes. “I don't mean it that way. I like him for you, Molly.”
“I do too,” Molly whispered, smiling, and then smiling wasn't enough, and she giggled. “I feel like a proper idiot about this.”
“You're acting like a proper idiot. It's sort of cute.”
The bedroom door opened and there was Fitz in the doorway. He looked surprised to see the sisters lying on top of the blanket together, but he didn't comment on it, only jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “You're out of firewhisky. I reckoned you wouldn't want that lot to see how you keep your supplies, so I didn't let them search your cupboards.”
“Wow, he really does know you,” Lucy remarked.
Molly scrambled to her feet and slipped past Fitz to fetch more whisky, leaving him with her sister. He watched Lucy sitting up, wondering what they'd been talking about alone together. He had an uncomfortable feeling it had been him, but wasn't sure if that was just ego. Something about Lucy's tone of voice, though...
He was afraid to ask, in case it hadn't been anything about him and he looked like an idiot in front of Molly's sister. “Did the Arrows report that brawl to the League, do you know?”
Lucy took the change of topic in stride. She shook her head. “No. No one would admit who threw the first blow, and Pendry thought the League might punish everyone, so he told them all to keep their mouths shut and not to do it again.”
That was a relief. Fitz blew out a breath. Nigel Pendry, the Appleby coach, hadn't committed to anything at the pub, and Fitz hadn't been sure if it would get back to the League what had happened. Both teams might have been sanctioned. Although as Duff liked to point out, no one had thrown Falmouth out of the League, and they regularly behaved much worse on the field. Still, he didn't want to have to explain the fight to the team owners. “That's good. Best to keep it quiet.”
“Best to keep a lot of things quiet, it seems,” Lucy agreed, and Fitz's stomach flipped.
“What do you mean?” he asked cautiously.
“Oh, nothing.” And she gave him a bright, sunny smile that was somehow very different from her sister and yet reminded him strongly of Molly.
They really did look alike, though Lucy was shorter, curvier, and lacked Molly's sharp edges. Lucy wore a floral skirt and a drapey sort of pink top that looked like the complete opposite of Molly's wardrobe. Everything about her was softer than her sister. He liked her, though. She was sweet.
Molly wasn't sweet. He liked that even better.
Molly appeared again beside him. “Thanks for letting me know,” she said quietly. “I can't believe how quickly that lot drank the first bottle.”
“Next time you'll have to set out extra.”
“True. I didn't want to encourage them to drink everything I have. I don't have a wheelbarrow handy to cart anyone home.”
Fitz smiled at that, and Lucy echoed, “A wheelbarrow?”
While Molly told her sister the story of Deimos being brought back to the retreat in a wheelbarrow, Fitz watched her face. She was turned to her sister so her profile was to him, giving him an excellent view of the small row of narrow silver hoops piercing her ear. Her hair hadn't been spiked up into the mohawk, and the purple curls floated around the nape of her neck, swept to one side.
He hadn't thought she'd want the team to know about her colour-coding of her flat, and somehow he'd known that her liquor would be colour-coded as well. It was, after all, arranged alphabetically on the narrow table she used as a bar during parties. No one else seemed to have noticed that, or that she periodically set the bottles back in order when they got disarranged.
She flashed a smile at him then, and motioned to her room. “Want to come have a chat with us?”
His eyes went straight to the bed, then flicked to her sister. He wanted to be in her bedroom, but not with company present. It was probably best not to give the team anything to wonder about, anyway. “I'd better keep an eye on that lot out there. Carmichael was ready to put his motorcycle up again, trying to beat Whittlemore.”
“Sid is a card sharp. Don't let them get in too deep. I'll be out shortly, I just want to talk to my sister for a mo.” She smiled at him, and he stepped back, closing the door on the two of them.
They were definitely talking about him. He stood for a moment in the corridor outside her bedroom, listening to the team shouting over a hand of poker and hoping Lucy Weasley had liked him, before returning to police the gambling.
The Rowan Mansion was busy Sunday night. Fitz could hardly even get near the bar. Eventually he pushed his way through and managed to signal one of Max's employees. It was another ten minutes before he had a pint in hand. The evening wasn't boding well, he decided. Anytime you couldn't even get a seat at the bar in the local pub, it was probably time to go home.
He looked around, hoping for an empty spot somewhere, and saw a flash of purple hair down the end of the bar.
She was paying more attention to her drink than her surroundings, and didn't seem to notice anything until he slid in beside her, positioning his back against the wall.
“Hi,” he said, setting his pint glass down beside her whisky sour.
She cocked her head as she looked up at him, so the purple curls swung down, bobbing against her jawline. “Hi. Fancy seeing you here.”
“I know, Quidditch players in a bar? Shockingly unusual.”
She laughed. “I'd invite you to sit, but there's no room. I've never seen this place so crowded.”
He glanced down at the middle of the bar. Max was looking harassed as he drew pints, trying to avoid being stepped on by the two bartenders on duty with him. “I don't know what's going on, I've never seen it this crowded either.”
“I asked a witch by the door. Apparently there was a Morris dancing festival at Castle Dunvegan and they all came here afterward for a pint.” Molly sipped her whisky sour. “No pubs in Dunvegan, I reckon.”
Fitz only vaguely knew where Dunvegan was. Somewhere west of Portree. “Must not be. Everyone get home all right last night?”
“As far as I know.”
Fitz had left her party shortly after her sister had, leaving the team to enjoy themselves without the coach around. He still felt that they would be more comfortable without him there, though Jinks and Zara had both told him to stay.
He'd also wanted to make sure it wasn't possible for him to be the last to leave.
“Duff was pretty drunk when he left, but Sid said he'd make sure he got home all right.” Molly gave him a sly smile. “What did you think of my sister?”
“She seems nice. I know I've met her husband a few times. Good man, sort of thick but he's a decent sort.”
Hilarion Winston-Fisher wasn't the sharpest quill on the Knarl, but then you didn't need to be a genius to be good at Quidditch. Hilarion was indisputably very good at Quidditch. He'd certainly got to that Snitch faster than Jinks, Fitz thought, trying not to feel disgruntled about that.
“Lucy liked you,” Molly told him.
“Did she?” That gave him rather a warm feeling. Molly was clearly feeling friendly, and having her sister's endorsement counted in his favour, since she was so close to her family. He smiled down at her. “I liked her too. She's not as pretty as you are.”
She gazed up at him through her lashes. “She's very pretty.”
“She is. But I like you better.” Unable to resist, he reached out to brush her curls aside. They felt soft under his fingertips, and he wondered how she got them that shade of purple.
“Thanks for not letting the team go through my cupboards,” she said, and he pulled his hand back, picking up his pint again.
“I knew you wouldn't want them to.”
The wizard sitting behind her got up, and Fitz slid past Molly to take the empty seat, brushing up against her as he did. She turned to face him again, smiling.
“I thought he'd never leave,” Fitz quipped.
They sat at the end of the bar, drinking slowly since refills seemed unlikely until the pub quieted down again, talking and laughing until close to midnight. Eventually Molly seemed to realize how late it was getting, and to Fitz's dismay, announced that she was going home.
“You're the one who told us bright and early Monday morning,” she pointed out when he protested.
“Hoisted by my own petard, is that what you're saying?”
She grinned and grabbed his hand. “Come on, you should go too. It's very late.”
“Midnight is hardly late.” He didn't move, not wanting to give up his evening alone with her. He would have stayed out all night if he thought she'd stay with him.
“It is when you have to be at work by six,” she told him, still holding his hand.
At her next tug, he got to his feet, and they left the pub hand in hand. Outside the air was cold enough that he could see his breath, and most of Portree was dark, the pavements dimly illuminated by the stars. Only the pub was open this late in such a small town. She let go his hand as soon as they were outside, and he stuck his hands in his coat pockets, feeling the wand tucked safely inside.
He missed the feel of her hand in his. Even more, he missed the feel of her body against his.
They walked down High Street in silence. Only a few people were out on the pavements, Muggles from the looks of them. They were coming up on a narrow alley between two storefronts, and he reached out for Molly's hand, pulling her between the buildings.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, though she didn't pull away. Her hand was still firmly in his. “Someone might see.”
He leaned over her, touching his forehead to hers. “Right now, I don't care. I need to kiss you.”
She put her free hand on the lapel of his coat, pulling him close. “Go on, then.”
“You like tugging on my clothes, don't you? Ripping off buttons and such-”
“Kiss me, you arsehole.” She tilted her face up to his.
He started slow, feeling the softness of her lips and tasting the whisky on her breath, one hand cupping her cheek. Her skin felt incredibly soft and smooth. The purple curls brushed against his fingers like a whisper of silk.
“You have no idea what you do to me,” he whispered when they broke apart.
She chuckled. “It'd better be the same thing you do to me.” And she curved one hand around the back of his neck, pulling his mouth back down to hers.
He forgot where they were, how late it was and how early they had to be on the pitch, forgot everything except the feel of her in his arms and the way she kissed him. She fit with him so perfectly, her lithe body pressed against the harder planes of his own. Everything about her felt right, from the top of her purple hair down to the tips of her black leather booted toes. He felt on fire when she kissed him, out of control. He didn't care if his career, his entire life was destroyed. He would burn it all to the ground for more of Molly.
That thought made him break off the kiss and step back, breathing heavily. He couldn't think straight. He hadn't felt this way about a woman before, not even his ex-wife. It was disorienting to realize.
Molly's lips were red from their kisses, and her eyes were dark. She seemed confused by his sudden need for a bit of distance. “What's wrong?”
“You should go home and get some sleep.” He straightened his coat, taking a deep breath. Maybe his brain needed some oxygen. He obviously wasn't thinking clearly, if he'd kissed her right in the middle of Portree for God and country to see them.
Love will make you do stupid things, his brain told him helpfully.
“God damn,” he said aloud.
Molly ran a hand through her hair. “I know.”
She must have thought he meant the kiss. He was glad she couldn't hear what he was thinking. It was even more stupid than kissing her had been. He was falling for her hard.
That wasn't good. It left him feeling a little panic-stricken.
“I'll see you in the morning.” She smiled up at him before Disapparating.
Fitz ran a hand through his hair. “Damn,” he said again.
There wasn't anything else to say, really. He went home and tried to sleep it off, hoping the morning would bring clarity that the stars hadn't given.
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